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How common lies at work could hurt you

  • Story Highlights
  • Almost all of us let "white lies" crop up while at work
  • Don't say "it's under control" if it's not -- the final product will tell the truth
  • "Stuck in traffic" only works so many times
  • "Let's do lunch" might be OK -- or, you may benefit from actually doing it
By Anthony Balderrama writer
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Lying is wrong.

How some lies could come back to hurt you and it might help to tell the truth.

How some lies could come back to hurt you and it might help to tell the truth.

As a child you learned this from your parents and teachers. It's even a commandment. Honesty is the best policy, most people seem to agree.

But that doesn't mean you follow this advice all the time.

I'm not saying you're a bad person, but if you're anything like me, the occasional half-truth or little white lie makes an occasional appearance. And if you're like many workers, these creative ways of describing the facts often pop up at work.

Here are workplace fibs we all tell:

'Everything is under control'
Bosses like to see employees who are in charge of a situation. "Come to me with solutions, not problems" is cliché, but it's true for most employers. So you're understandably loathe to admit you've lost control of a situation and your life is crumbling down. Yet, you don't want to look incompetent (and overly dramatic) either.

Just be honest with someone, whether it's your boss, a co-worker or another resource who can help you. Explain that you're working on a task that isn't going as you had envisioned and you'd like to bounce some ideas around to find a resolution while you still have time to get back on track.

Think about the alternative: You act as if everything is running smoothly and then the deadline approaches and you've got nothing. How will you look then?

'It would be my pleasure'
Work isn't all fun. That's a lesson we learn early in life, so we're used to smiling while we take on tasks we don't want. Still, you want to be certain you balance your enthusiasm and willingness to be unhappy with honesty.

If your boss hands you a project that's going to be torture, you probably can't get out of it. But given the opportunity to discuss what you like and dislike about your job, tactfully stress what tasks make the best use of your skills and which ones don't.

That's not to say you can get out of doing unpleasant tasks, but you don't want to give the illusion that you love doing these projects -- otherwise the boss will think you want them and make them your primary job. Then it's too late to go remedy the situation.

'Got stuck in traffic'
If you're late, just own up to it. You might think it's professional suicide to admit you were too lazy not to hit the snooze button seven times, but it's not. Unless you have a draconian boss, occasional tardiness isn't going to hurt your chances of a promotion and your co-workers will understand. Everyone's been in the situation.

If you have to lie because you're always late, then no one's buying your excuses anyway. Traffic, a faulty alarm clock, a pregnant woman went into labor on the train -- you only get so many passes before everyone knows you're lying. Here, the lies are secondary to your reputation as the incessant latecomer.

'I was thinking the exact same thing'
Everyone hates a suck-up. Even the boss. So don't try to win favors by agreeing with everything he or she says. You probably didn't have the same idea because if you did, you'd have said it.

The same goes for colleagues. Agreeing with them and supporting their ideas are admirable actions, but pretending as if you both created a joint vision and you want partial credit is not acceptable. When you do put your own ideas out there, you don't want someone else piggybacking on your hard work.

'Let's get together soon'
Ever since you graduated from high school and started running into former classmates, you've been using the "Let's get lunch" lie on a regular basis. The truth is that you have no intention of getting together with these people (and they probably feel the same way).

In business, you're bound to bump into people you're not eager to break bread with, either at a meeting, a conference or in a social setting. Now, telling someone, "I just don't find you interesting enough to sit at the same table for an hour!" isn't good business. So this lie might not be so bad.

But you should also consider actually delivering on this promise. You never know when someone has valuable ideas or contacts that could benefit you. At worst, you listen to boring stories while you poke at your salad. At best, you have a new relationship that can help your business and you might actually like the person.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority

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